TAMPA, Fla. – By now you’ve likely read plenty of the things you should know to be prepared for Monday’s total solar eclipse over the United States, when the moon will completely cover the sun and cast a shadow across the country, marking the first total solar eclipse visible in the U.S. since 1979.
But here’s a few things that you might not yet know about solar eclipses:
1. It’s an Earth exclusive.
Don’t go jetting off to another planet hoping to spot a total solar eclipse somewhere else, because it’s a phenomenon unique to Earth. University of South Florida astronomy professor Kevin MacKay explains it’s got everything to do with an unbelievable coincidence.
“Just by a quirk of nature, the sun is about 400 times bigger than the moon, but it’s also 400 times further away, so from our perspective the sun and the moon look the same size in the sky,” MacKay said.
2. Someday, we won’t be able to see solar eclipses
Because of that coincidental quirk, solar eclipses will not be visible from Earth someday. MacKay explains the moon is slowly but gradually moving away from the Earth—by about 3 cm per year (equal to the thickness of about 5 iPhones stacked onto each other).
“So as the moon gets further and further away from the Earth it’s going to appear smaller,” MacKay said.
But don’t worry, we’ve still got time to see more.
3. You’re not totally out of luck in Tampa Bay if you miss Monday’s eclipse
“Hang around and the eclipse is going to come to you,” MacKay is happy to remind us. Good news: the next path of totality for a solar eclipse runs straight over the Tampa area.
Bad news: That’s not happening until 2045.
“Astronomy can be a cruel mistress,” MacKay also reminds us.
Bottom line, MacKay says if you do plan to see the eclipse, don’t try to snap the best pictures, just enjoy it.
“It happens very, very quickly which is why I say don’t worry about taking photos of it—there’ll be plenty of people taking photographs—just experience what’s actually happening, because you’ll miss it,” he said.
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